Romance is built on basic storytelling situations that stand the test of time. These are those tried-and-true tropes that provide a framework for the plot and for the viewing experience. When done successfully, the audience enjoys a nice sensation of comfort and familiarity that accompanies them. There’s no need for tropes to be groundbreaking or pioneering to really work. It’s just about the feeling they give you. A happy sigh of satisfaction as the central couple gets together is the sound of a trope well done. Purple Hearts settles into the fake relationship trope with effective drama and good chemistry.
“I hate the way you say my name.”
Cassie Salazar (Sofia Carson) and Luke Morrow (Nicholas Galitzine) seem like they couldn’t be more different. He’s a third-generation Marine; she’s the daughter of an immigrant. Or, to use the film’s signals, she hangs a “Black Lives Matter” flag outside her apartment while his father has an NRA sign in his window. This difference is used sparingly to create tension during the early sequences.
The more central dynamic going on, plot-wise, is that Cassie desperately needs help affording insulin, while Luke is a recovered addict under debt to his old dealer. If they marry, she gets health insurance, and he gets higher pay.
Of course, they get love too. Eventually.
The romance is overlaid with drama because marrying for military benefits is fraud. He would be dishonorably discharged, and she could face civilian criminal charges. In the interest of making their relationship look real, Cassie and Luke learn what makes each other tick. Cassie is a singer-songwriter, and music is a strong foundation for their connection over distance as Luke is deployed. The film features more than one catchy original song that ties into the progression of the love story.
When a couple inspires each other like that, well, I think that’s special. And it results in a great moment when Luke and his unit hear one of Cassie’s songs for the first time and he brags, “That’s my wife!”
“I hope you come back home.”
We’re used to tropes like fake relationships in romantic comedies, but this film is undeniably a drama. Aside from the danger of legal repercussions, Luke is injured in combat. His past intrudes on their possibilities for happiness, as well.
A valid argument could be made that streamlining the conflicts would make the story better. And yet…the viewer is still engaged. You’re invested in rooting for them. You want them to both resolve their situation and unite as a couple. A lot of this is due to the actors. Carson’s musical ability is impressive, and Galitzine exhibits surprising emotional strength, especially in one memorable moment.
And together, their chemistry is strong. At first, you might think Cassie and Luke only have bickering to build their connection. But then one or two scenes go by that develop a physical dimension to their interaction, and they WORK. They work REALLY well. Carson and Galitzine sell this part of an onscreen romance the way they need to. Of course, the fact that they’re both attractive doesn’t hurt.
No matter how you feel about certain tropes, love stories MUST make you want these two people to be together. This film does that. And it also hits the right emotional buttons a few times.
Purple Hearts is a contemporary romantic drama to come to when you want a dose of fake relationship goodness.
3 1/2 stars out of 5
Purple Hearts is streaming on Netflix.